Why do we love sports so much? What is it about them that causes us to parade in the streets when our city’s team wins and riot when they lose? The Superbowl was watched by 100 million people last year.
We love sports because they’re real. They mirror our actual lives. The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. The allegory of professional sports contains a lot of lessons that can be applied to our jobs and lives.
Elite sports franchises all have one thing in common. They’re great at assembling teams. They put together the right mix of skillsets and personalities to create a system where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In this way, they mirror tech startups.
It takes a village to win a championship and it often takes an even larger village to build a successful company. Too little diversity of workstyles and skillsets and an organization runs the risk of having large blind spots, like an NFL team with a bad offensive line.
The need for a diverse set of styles extends to Product teams. Not all Product Managers work the same way and in order to build a successful team, different kinds of Product Managers are needed.
In the rest of this post, we’re going to be mapping famous athletes to different Product Manager personas. Who’s the ultimate Product visionary of the sports world? Who’s gonna get shit done no matter what? Let’s find out.
Product Manager Persona: The Visionary Product Manager
Why? LeBron is the ultimate floor general. Harnessing a near-photographic memory and an encyclopedic knowledge of the game he sees plays on the floor unfolding before they happen. He knows his teams’ plays, his opponents’ plays, and exactly what lever to pull to exploit any weaknesses in the defense. Check out this video of LeBron recalling a play months after it occurred with perfect detail for proof.
Biggest Product Strength: Vision and Intellect.
Biggest Product Weakness: High expectations that can lead to passive-aggressiveness. LeBron can get frustrated with teammates who can’t keep up with him mentally and sometimes expresses that frustration in non-productive ways.
Would Work At: SpaceX (or any other Elon Musk run organization, all about the vision!)
Product Manager Persona: The Get Shit Done Product Manager
Why? Kobe’s basketball legacy is focused on one topic. Hard work. Renowned for his work ethic, Bryant went 110% every moment of every practice and every game. He got shit done. Bryant’s effort often made up for any and all other deficiencies.
During game 7 of the 2010 NBA finals against the Boston Celtics, Bryant had a dismal shooting performance, going 6 for 24 from the field. Despite his poor shooting, Bryant worked his way to 15 rebounds and got to the line for 15 free throws. When things weren’t going his way he worked his way through the problem. That makes him the G.S.D. Product Manager.
Biggest Product Strength: Endless belief, cranks out a ton of work. Never gives up, goes 110% till the end.
Biggest Product Weakness: A complete lack of patience for teammates who couldn’t keep up with his work ethic meant that Bryant’s intensity broke as many teammates as it made stronger.
Works at: Apple (in the beginning, at the time when Steve Jobs once told the press that the Macintosh team was working “90 hours a week and loving it!”).
Product Manager Persona: The Marketing Product Manager
Why? Russell is the king of brand. An all-star in front of the press, he keeps the Seahawks image squeaky clean and helps the team avoid controversy and negative press that could take focus away from their goals.
Biggest Product Strength: With the wind of a great brand at his team’s back, Wilson’s already stellar play is given an additional boost. A great brand/organizational reputation manifests in many unseen but greatly felt ways.
Biggest Product Weakness: Wilson’s unflagging optimism can come off as disingenuous at times. He would be served well to adopt a greater degree of honesty and vulnerability during rough patches of a season.
Works at: Squarespace, the early adopters of podcast advertising.
Product Manager Persona: The Data Science/Analytic Product Manager
Why? Detail-oriented doesn’t even begin to cover it. Brady understands the product, the sprint, and the business with a level of detail no one else can compete with. Meticulous JIRA dashboards track sprint velocity, new features are sometimes identified and prototyped by Brady, and looming pitfalls are usually identified by Brady before anyone else.
Biggest Product Strength: Brady’s always ahead of the other team. As soon as the defense reacts to one play, Brady’s already switching to the next one to exploit a new weakness. Brady can identify both opportunities (a new feature that’ll be a key selling point) and risks (a fundamental product flaw) enough in advance to give his company a good chance at either leaning into the opportunity or mitigating the risk.
Biggest Product Weakness: Role clarity can be a struggle for the Analytic/Data Science Product Manager. With a programming background, sometimes the line between engineering and Product Management gets blurred and the Analytic Product Manager finds themselves working on a feature that would be much better served with an engineering resource.
I’m not sure this weakness actually applies to Brady. With 6 Superbowls, it’s hard to imagine him having any football-related weaknesses!
Works at: OpenAI
Product Manager Persona: The Street Sweeper Product Manager
Why? “He does all the little things” is a phrase often written about Draymond. Grabbing rebounds, diving after loose balls, setting good screens, playing hard defense. These actions aren’t the most glamorous but they are a requirement for greater team success. The Product Manager Draymond Green is always cleaning up the JIRA board, writing clear and up to date documentation, and asking clarifying questions around new feature requests. His work isn’t always front and center, but without it, the startup grinds to a halt.
Biggest Product Manager Strengths: Lack of ego. Draymond doesn’t need or want the credit, he just wants to win. His willingness to do the “dirty work” sets a great example for the rest of the team.
Biggest Product Manager Weaknesses: Sometimes Draymond can get so bogged down in the details that he can lose sight of the holistic context of a new feature or product. An occasional reminder to see the forest through the trees is needed.
Works at: Amazon
What do you agree with? Disagree with?
Let me know in the comments!
Arjun Arun is the Senior Manager of Product & Analytics at Curation Health, a healthcare technology startup. Outside of writing Python code and obsessing over the current sprint, he loves running, reading, and the occasional craft beer.